NY top economic development official says regional council members’ finances ‘not public records’

ALBANY — New York collects personal financial information from more than 200 people who recommend which economic development projects should receive state aid, but officials say the public should not be allowed to review that information.

“These folks don’t have any statutory responsibility. They can’t actually enact anything based on their decision-making,’’ Howard Zemsky, the state’s top economic development official, said of members of 10 regional councils that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called key elements to his regional approach to job creation efforts.

The issue arose during a lengthy joint state budget hearing Monday by the two legislative houses looking into the Cuomo administration’s new 2018 fiscal plans for economic development programs.

Lawmakers for a couple years have proposed – unsuccessfully – to make the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils subject to annual financial disclosure requirements, like that of thousands of state workers and people who serve on various state panels. They have argued the public has a right to know about the finances of the regional council members that have been portrayed from its start in 2011 as the best-situated to know of a specific region’s economic needs.

Cuomo, along with Zemsky, beat back those efforts, saying the councils serve in an advisory capacity with final decisions being made by state agencies. Further, Zemsky has said, requiring the volunteers to publicly disclose information about themselves would create a chilling effect on recruiting people for the councils. Read more…